Labor MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.
Labor MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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The questioning of MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer by the police on suspicion that he illegally received funds is expected to reshuffle the Israeli presidency election deck. Members of the Knesset's Labor Party will meet early next week to decide whether they should withdraw their support for Ben-Eliezer's candidacy. It is also possible that Ben-Eliezer himself will announce that he is pulling out of the race if the investigation persists. "The investigation into 'Fuad' [Ben-Eliezer's] affairs in a death blow to his campaign," an MK, who was considering voting for him, told Haaretz. "As long as suspicion surrounds him, he is expected to receive zero support from the Knesset."

Knesset members expressed their assessment that the current timetable will not allow for the postponing of the elections due to the investigation. If Ben-Eliezer quits this would likely significantly strengthen Meir Sheetrit and Dalia Dorner. On the other hand, Dalia Itzik's prospects are not likely to gain from the move as Ben-Eliezer supporters from are reluctant to supporting her candidacy due to a grudge over her decision to leave the Labor Party for Kadima. Sheetrit, a dovish former Likud member, believes he will be able to garner the support of the left as well as the support of Reuven Rivlin's rivals on the right, so that he will be able to defeat Rivlin in the second voting round. Dorner may become a "lightning rod" for dozens of MKs that weren't able to find a candidate to their liking and would prefer to abstain.

The news of the investigation into Ben-Eliezer's affairs caused a great embarrassment in the Labor Party. Questions over Ben-Eliezer's purchase of a 9 million shekel roof apartment in Jaffa have led to discomfort among the MKs, and among these the party chairman Isaac Herzog. Some have them even asked Ben-Eliezer about the purchase, to which he responded that he has all the documentation to prove that the property was bought lawfully. Despite the fact that Ben-Eliezer was considered a leading candidate for the presidency, half of the party's MKs announced over the last few weeks that they are considering not voting for him. Three of them have already promised their votes for other candidates. MK Shelly Yacimovich publicly announced her support for Rivlin, a Likud man.

Herzog commented on the affair in an interview with Channel 2 Friday evening, saying that he was surprised by the allegations against Ben-Eliezer. "Nothing is more populist than throwing Ben-Eliezer under the bus, but I don't act in that way" he said. "'Fuad' called me today after leaving the police interrogation. He described the situation and sounded calm, said he has the documentation needed. I told him I hope he gets out of it as soon as possible." Herzog added that "we need to wait and see that the findings are and what the legal advisor decides, only then will we make a decision."

Police on Friday interrogated Knesset member and presidential hopeful Ben-Eliezer on suspicion of receiving funds illegally from a businessman linked to the Ashdod Port corruption affair.

Sources close to the matter told Haaretz the police suspect that Ben-Eliezer illegally received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Avraham Nanikashvili, a businessman involved in the Ashdod Port affair, who was interrogated again on Friday in relation to Ben-Eliezer.